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Cooperative federalism? Amendment casting LG as “government” belittles the elected Delhi assembly’s mandate to govern

The bill introduced in Lok Sabha to amend the Government of NCT of Delhi Act granting the lieutenant governor extensive powers to intervene in the functioning of the capital city’s elected government is a regressive move. The 2018 SC judgment that restricted Centre’s ambit to control over police, public order and land ensured an uneasy ceasefire, allowing Delhi’s administration to proceed relatively smoothly. By mandating LG’s opinion before any decision is taken, the amendment seeks to override SC’s ruling which held that Council of Ministers didn’t need to obtain LG’s “concurrence” on every issue of day to day governance.

In stating that the “government” referred to in any law passed by the Delhi assembly “shall mean the Lieutenant Governor” the amendment ends the autonomy enjoyed by the AAP government and reduces it to a figurehead. A political case is also made against the needless amendment by AAP winning two successive mandates with a thumping majority against two national parties. If this signifies popular approval for its work, there can be no argument in terms of misgovernance to thrust the unaccountable LG’s office with more administrative powers.

The amendment is deeply hurtful for Indian democracy. It gives grist to the pervasive criticism that democracy is being downgraded even as political power is getting centralised. An elected government awaiting the opinion of the unelected LG on administrative decisions will considerably slow down governance. This will directly impact the quality of life in the capital city, already beset by air quality and policing woes. Even if the bill passes the Parliament courtesy NDA’s majority, a legal challenge is bound to ensue. Months could go by in agitation, litigation, and governance at a standstill. Centre must respect federalism and back off while there is still leeway to do so.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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